Property Division, Sharing & The Matrimonial Home

Who Was the Rightful Owner of “Copper” the Dog?

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Who Was the Rightful Owner of “Copper” the Dog?

A recent Ontario case in which the court ruled on whether the engagement ring that man had given the woman had to be returned to him, now that their wedding had been called off.

That same couple had a host of disputes for the court’s resolution, including one relating to the ownership and future residency of the dog named “Copper” that they once shared while living together.

It seems the woman had brought the dog home when he was just a puppy.  When she and the man split up about a half-year later, the man moved out and left the dog behind in the woman’s care.  But now before the court he claimed the dog was actually a gift to him, and he wanted it back.

The woman countered by saying that she never gifted the dog to the man, that Copper was always her dog, and that she had no intention of giving him up or even sharing him.

Thus the question of Copper’s true ownership was brought before the court for its resolution.

The court began by stating that – under the established Canadian law – dogs are approached in the same way as other personal property, notwithstanding their often-special nature to humans.  Also, there was no question that in this case the woman had bought the dog, so she was the sole owner unless the man could prove she had gifted it to him at any point.  The mere fact that the man may have cared for it, spent time with it, or helped pay for the related pet expenses did not transform him into the dog’s owner by law.

With that framework in place, the court looked at the evidence.  In support of his position that the dog was actually his, the man claimed that there was what the court called an “explicit moment of gifting” – specifically on the very day the woman first brought the dog home.  He admitted that he had not been happy about having a new puppy added to the family, but claimed that the woman indicated her intent to make a gift to him by stating, “I bought it for you” or “look what I got for you”.

The court rejected the man’s argument, stating:

Objectively, those statements given their timing do not indicate an intention to gift.  It was more like when one partner cooking porridge for himself says to the other who hates porridge “look what I made you”.  The word I think is facetious.  In the context of the [man’s] clear opposition, those statements do not indicate that the [woman] was seriously intending to make a gift.  There was no birthday, anniversary, or other occasion that would prompt the giving of a gift.  It would be very odd for the [woman] to buy the dog she had long wanted and then immediately give it away to someone who up to that point was clearly indicating that he did not want a dog.    

On this last point the court explained that the former couple had previously discussed getting a dog – with the woman clearly indicating that she wanted a dog, while the man being equally clear that he did not.  The woman had purchased the dog despite the man’s opposition, because “she simply wanted a dog and loved pets.”

Even if it was true that the man had a change of heart (since he claimed that he “fell in love” with the dog a few minutes after being introduced to it), this did not turn the dog into a gift on the woman’s part, or serve to legally change its ownership. Nor did the fact that the man helped name the dog,

Rather, the key to determining ownership hinged simply on whether the woman intended to gift the dog to the man, and also on whether the man accepted the gift.  The court found the answer was “no” on both counts.  Indeed, on the question of accepting the so-called gift the court noted that the man often deflected responsibility for the dog when there were problems with it, stating “you bought it, you deal with it”.   Plus, the woman was the one who controlled when the man got to see the dog after they separated – which suggested that they both viewed the dog as hers.

In the end, the court found that the man had not established the legal elements required to establish a gift, and ruled that Copper the dog rightfully belonged to the woman.

For the full text of the decision, see:

King v. Mann, 2020 ONSC 108 (CanLII)

Stay in Touch

Keep learning about the latest issues in Ontario family law! Subscribe to our newsletter, have our latest articles delivered to your inbox, or listen to our Podcast Family Law Now.

Be sure to find out more about the "new normal", by visiting our Covid-19 and Divorce Information Centre.

About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.